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Humans Have Been Living in New Epoch for Last 50 Years

Jan 16, 2015 01:26 PM EST

It turns out that humans have actually been living in a new epoch for the last 50 years, beginning on July 16, 1945 with the dawn of the nuclear era, a new study says.

The past 12,000 years are referred to as the Holocene - Greek for "entirely recent" - but scientists believe since we are leaving our mark on the planet, especially in terms of the climate, it's time to name a new epoch. Dubbed "Anthropocene," or the age of humans, it marks a new chapter in the Earth's geological history, one in which we are changing the face of the planet with global warming, deforestation and pollution.

However, it seems we have already entered this new chapter during a key turning point in the mid-20th century - the detonation of the first atomic bomb.

"Like any geological boundary, it is not a perfect marker - levels of global radiation really rose in the early 1950s, as salvoes of bomb tests took place," lead author Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz, of the University of Leicester's Department of Geology and chair of the Anthropocene Working Group, said in a statement.

"But it may be the optimal way to resolve the multiple lines of evidence on human-driven planetary change," he added. "Time - and much more discussion - will tell."

Experts have previously argued for other ideas as to when the Anthropocene should begin, ranging from the start of agriculture thousands of years ago to the Industrial Revolution - or possibly its beginning hasn't even arrived yet, with the greatest human-made changes yet to come.

The Anthropocene Working Group - a group of scientists and humanists - assembled in Berlin last year with the goal of "developing a proposal for the formal ratification of the Anthropocene as an official unit amending the Geological Time Scale," they wrote in a news release.

The term was first proposed in the 1980s by Nobel Prize winning chemist Paul Crutzen in 2000.

And while it no doubt will be an uphill battle to make the Anthropocene idea official - it took about 15 years to name the last epoch, the Ediacaran period some 600 million years ago - the Anthropocene Working Group has given itself until 2016 to do so.

The work was published in the journal Quaternary International.

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